I’m making a deliberate choice not to draw any big conclusions about early retirement here on the blog until we’re at least three months into it, maybe longer, because we are still very much in the detox phase right now and don’t yet know what our daily rhythms will look like after we’ve caught up on sleep (or even just gotten over the jet lag), how we’ll feel long-term with no title and no career, or any of the big, life-changing stuff that we suspect early retirement will bring. But, that said, some things are clear to us already, and one of those is that:
So far, early retirement involves a lot of time travel.
To many different times, in fact. Think I’m joking? Read on!
Sleep and Time Travel
Yesterday, I slept for 15 hours. From a little after midnight to 9 am, when I looked at my phone and said, “Wow, cool! I made it 9 hours!” And then from 9 to 3:30 in the freaking afternoon, after I proceeded to fall instantly back asleep, snooze away those hours, wake up, glance at my phone again, and this time jolt out of bed, march out to Mark, who was reading on the couch, and ask incredulously, “What the hell just happened?!”
Because I am a bad sleeper. Always have been. I have slept 15 hours in one night exactly zero times that I can ever remember. Most weekend days while working, I was stoked if I slept past 7:30, regardless of how late we’d been up. (And, yes, I know all the parents of young children are snickering. We know that sleeping in wouldn’t be an option if we had kids.) And I didn’t believe that work stress had anything to do with me being a bad sleeper, or at least it didn’t cause the problem. Because even as a baby, my parents told my doctors they were worried about how little I slept. I would just stare out at the world when I was supposed to be getting that brain-growing shut-eye.
But now, suddenly, I am capable of doing this thing I’ve never been able to do before. And while it’s true that I was tired and coming off a short night of sleep the night before (stupid jet lag and 16-hour time differences), I was tired and coming off short nights of sleep for essentially my entire career, and I still never slept 15 hours. I maybe slept 12 hours like once every 5 years.
Now, apparently, I sleep like a teenager. (A teenager I personally never was, no less!)
Because early retirement is like going back in time.
Budgeting and Time Travel
The last few years of saving for early retirement were not the budgeting masterpiece you might expect. Though we’ve been successful with our finances by any measure, we are not what you’d call master budgeters, and have always done far better with unbudgeting approaches like paying ourselves first. But when we started beating our saving goals and still had money left in our checking account? Well, we got a little fast and loose with that money, stocking up on things we knew we wouldn’t want to buy after we were retired, and making a few more trips than we might otherwise have.
Now, though, it’s a new day. While the amount we have to spend this year is not dramatically different from what we’ve had to spend in the past, we don’t have the wiggle room that large, steady paychecks once afforded us. If we’d had a budget overage in the past, we just had to make it two weeks at most until another paycheck came and all was forgiven. Or maybe we transferred some money over from the “life happens” fund and then refilled that fund over the course of a few months.
The safety nets are now gone, though. (The allowances notwithstanding. And, in truth, we haven’t implemented those yet.) A budgetary oops could force us to sell more shares than we’re supposed to this year and even potentially jeopardize the long-term solvency of our early retirement, especially if we end up with a bad sequence of returns. (It would take a big oops to do that, but we’re talking worst case here.)
Which means: as budget averse as we are, we have to figure out a few forms of budgeting that we can live with. Like setting an amount we can spend per day on a trip. Or figuring out what a trip to Coachella in April means for our dining out in February and March. Or how long we can afford to stay in New York City in May if we also want to go to Germany this year. In the past, we’ve generally planned one trip at a time, not several, so if we overspent on one trip we might just not do the next one, or we’d figure out after the fact some way to make up for it. But that’s not really an option anymore unless we’d be okay potentially traveling less. (We’re not.)
The last time we had to think like that, in concrete budgetary terms? Our mid-20s. And now we get to remember in gory detail what that was like. Which is especially weird because we weren’t even together the last time money was truly tight for both of us. So we’re again traveling back in time, but to a time we didn’t share with each other.
Travel Standards and Time Travel
I never got used to super swanky hotels when I traveled for work, because I was not into spending my company’s or clients’ money that way. But every once in a while, a place like the Ritz would have some crazy low rate, and I’d jump at the chance to stay there. And in my last few years, I had Marriott platinum status, and that meant frequent upgrades to suites, which came with lots of space, even if it wasn’t especially luxurious space. There were also the perks like early check-in and late check-out, free breakfast and lounge access, and just generally a higher level of niceness and helpfulness at the front desk.
And while I still have Marriott and SPG status for another year (and will soon have Marriott gold status for life after I reach United million miler), we’re not going to be staying in Marriott properties nearly as often now that we’re done with our careers. Marriotts overseas tend to be pretty terrible points values (of course there are notable exceptions), and in a place like Taipei, where it’s easy to find a totally decent hotel for $50 a night, there was no way in hell I was going to trade in 40,000 points a night for a slightly better hotel. Obviously we weren’t going to pay for a western hotel, either, given that those cost at least double the local places.
But that meant we spent most of our trip staying in tiny matchboxes of rooms. The worst was our last night in Taipei, before we flew home, when the tiny room was the least problematic, but when there isn’t even a place to put two smallish backpacks or to hang your towels (after you’ve showered in the shared bathroom down the hall) and you end up draping them over the TV, you know your travel standards are being forced to change, and fast.
This is absolutely what we signed up for. We knew we could work a little longer and then afford to travel a lot while staying at nicer places. Or we could leave work a little sooner, but then choose either to travel less or to stay in cheaper places. And leaving work sooner while still traveling a lot was our top priority, so we happily accepted the trade-off of smaller rooms in less amenity-filled properties.
But overnight, we went from staying in totally decent, usually nice, sometimes swanky places, to staying in places where you snap pics because you know no one will believe you when you tell them how small the room was.
Which is just like when I traveled around Europe after high school, and when Mark did it in his early 20s. Because, y’all — time travel.
Time and, Er, Time Travel
Our careers, if you boiled them down to their core essence, were about saying yes. Which sounds all cool and improv-y, but really, that’s just the core of client work. When clients ask for something, you try your absolute best to be able to say yes to them. Even when I realized that I’d only make it through the last year of work by saying no more and setting clearer boundaries, I still tried to say yes as much as possible within the new parameters I set.
Mark and I still had a script that sounded like:
Absolutely I can be there for that 9 am Monday meeting, even if it means traveling on Sunday, because I get why Tuesday won’t work instead. No problem being on that 8 am conference call, because I know you’re busy the rest of the day. You need that report tomorrow, all of a sudden, when the last you told me, you didn’t need it for two weeks? Okay, sure, I can pull an all-nighter.
And so far our early retirement is not the work-free fantasy we’d initially (and foolishly) dreamed of. Mark is spending a lot of time on work for the organization whose board he leads. And I’m doing lots of blog and podcast hustling. All of which is work we choose to do, work that passes our high school rule.
But we’re doing it a lot differently. With a lot less yes, even if the people we’d be saying yes to are now ourselves. We’re reserving whole days of the week for play and relaxation. We put things off while in Taiwan instead of working on vacation, like we had for every prior one we could remember. My Asana to-do list has multiple days in a row with no tasks to check off (I do kinda miss the unicorn burst on my screen after checking off a big one). The calendar on my phone looks like I just got a new phone and haven’t uploaded my full schedule yet.
And it’s marvelous. It’s like being a kid. A kid with the aches of late-30- and 40-somethings, and the gray hairs to match, sure. But still a kid with the freedom of those weekends and wide-open summer days. And so far, it’s even better than we dreamed.
Let’s Talk About Your Time Travel
So tell all of us — how do you hope to time travel in early retirement? Or if you’re retired already, what’s your time travel journey like? Any big surprises? What’s something you’d like to experience again from each major chapter or era of your life? Or something you dread experiencing again? ;-) Or maybe something you’ve already experienced in the course of your savings journey, like how we dialed back our baller years and got on the lifestyle stagnation path instead, revisiting our lives of a decade earlier? Let’s discuss in the comments!
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Categories: we retired early